Contact centers, by nature, are supposed to be efficient. How many interactions can be handled? How quickly can issues be resolved? What’s the optimal number of Communicators needed to keep things flowing smoothly? To measure these efficiency factors, metrics were created.

As contact centers evolve, however, so do priorities and, thus, metrics. Several years ago, a major shift occurred when the high cost of poor customer service was revealed in research from Accenture. Survey results indicated that U.S. businesses lose about $1.6 trillion annually due to customers switching brands because of poor service. This news caused efficiency to fall a notch on the scale of importance and quality of customer service to go up, with matching metrics to boot.

Now, contact center priorities—and their accompanying metrics—are split between the two camps: efficiency/productivity and customer satisfaction.

In this and two additional posts, what we’re calling a “Metrics That Matter” miniseries, we’ll be delving into three specific contact center metrics that cover both camps. The metrics I’ll be highlighting were chosen because I believe they have real value and relevance in today’s contact center, and because they are worth spending time to truly understand. The first of our three-part series—“Customer Effort Score”—starts here.

Customer effort score

Businesses are always looking for a way to measure customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction drives customer loyalty, which is linked to company growth. Customer effort score has evolved from several iterations of customer satisfaction measurements. First was the CSAT (customer satisfaction) question: How satisfied are you with the product? The problem with CSAT was that it focused only on the product, which, as we now know, is not a good predictor of customer loyalty.

Then came the Net Promotor Score, or NPS. NPS asks: How likely is it that you will recommend a particular brand to a friend? While still considered a valid and useful metric in the contact center due to its simplicity and widespread use (which makes it easy to benchmark against competitors), some controversy surrounds the metric’s ability to predict company growth. For one thing, NPS doesn’t provide enough feedback about specific transactions. It also isn’t concrete enough for decision-making purposes. If your scores are low, where do you try to improve? Enter the customer effort score (CES).

Essentially, the school of thought behind customer effort is that “delighting the customer” is no longer relevant. People simply want an effortless experience when it comes to resolving their problems. Businesses should be readily available when issues arise, and make it as easy as possible for customers to solve those issues. Customer loyalty, it seems, is built on hassle-free experiences.

How to measure customer effort

CES refers to the amount of effort it takes a customer before his or her service issue is fully resolved. The standard CES question is: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: The company made it easy for me to handle my issue. Provide a numbered scale for customers to rank the service, with one being strongly disagree and seven being strongly agree. Top-performing companies usually average a 6, with about 75 percent of their customers agreeing with the statement.

Sometimes that question is fleshed out with a more detailed customer survey. Statements and/or questions could include:

  • It took less time than I expected to handle this issue.
  • It was easy to reach the right representative to handle this issue.
  • The representative seemed very knowledgeable.
  • How many representatives did you speak with about this issue?
  • How many times have you contacted us about this issue?

Examine each channel of communication individually. By doing so, you’ll identify the best opportunities to reduce customer effort. Best practice insight and technology company CEB Global offers an excellent Customer Effort Audit Tool as part of its Effortless Experience e-book. The tool comes with a list of specific questions you can use to evaluate the effectiveness of various channels, such as website, IVR and phone. After completing the questionnaires you can rank each channel based on how much effort customers expend there.

In addition, first contact resolution (FCR) rate—a metric you’re probably already using in your contact center—indicates the effectiveness of your service. If customers have to contact you more than once about a specific problem, it indicates there’s work to be done in the area of customer effort. When a problem related to FCR surfaces, look for the root cause in agent training and coaching, and insufficient knowledge bases.

Improving your customer effort score

If your surveys and analysis conclude that the level of customer effort is too high, there are some things you can do to take action:

  • Strengthen your team. Your Communicators need to be brought in the loop so they understand the problem at hand and can contribute to a resolution. The better relationship you have with your employees, the better response you’ll get from them for addressing the situation.
  • Speak candidly with customers. Subpar customer effort scores may mean you need to do more to understand the problem. Don’t be afraid to speak directly with customers about the sources of their frustration. They’ll probably be glad you asked.
  • Continue to measure. You may feel as if you’re experimenting with ways to reduce customer effort, but usually no one answer is “right.” Tweak the system, and test again. The feedback you gain from each round of testing will ultimately produce a solution that works.

Is your contact center using the customer effort score? Please share your thoughts and advice on using the metric successfully in the comments section below.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.